The Art of Unplanned

 

Last year’s Gosnell and the recently released Unplanned present a thorny problem for Conservatives who choose to write about film. The morals that drive these films are undoubtedly in line with the cultural right since both are anti-abortion. That is their sole raison d’etre. It is the reason the films were made and the reason viewers bought their tickets.

So their status as art is dubious from the get-go. The question of whether or not film, and photography generally, is an art is still seriously debated in certain circles. But leaving aside that very complicated discussion, which seems to have no purchase on the popular imagination, these two films represent a perfect litmus test for whether or not a film enthusiast of the Conservative persuasion has integrity as both a person of virtue and critic of the moving picture.

Because neither film is a great exemplar of cinema. They are essentially serviceable films made in the Lifetime or TV movie mode. Neither is interesting in their own right as a film. Neither will be watched for their own sake. They will not be enduring classics, eventually relegated to that shadowy forgotten land where The Cross and the Switchblade and The Thief in the Night series rest undisturbed. Because if artistic outcomes mean anything they must mean that something is valued for its own sake. A great film is sought out for the same reason that a great dessert is, simply because it is delicious.

The Conservative and especially the Christian must begin their philosophy of art with the doctrine of creation. God didn’t need to create; otherwise, he would not be God. The classical conception of ultimate divine reality is at the very least a being for which nothing is required. God is perfectly sufficiently happy in and of himself. This is how he can be the source of all good things. He himself needs no source. He is the source. And so the things he creates are created for their own sake and not his. They are inherently useless to him. He does not need them.

In fact, the Christian story of creation is not only useless to God but dangerous. Because unlike most conceptions of the divine the Christian believes that God became human and literally died. He came back to human life of course, but still the perfectly happy one created something that he knew would require his own pain to save. This is a far thornier problem than the traditional logical problem of evil for someone desiring a perfectly “rational” faith. For present purposes it is not helpful to dwell on this, the reader simply needs to understand that the Christian doctrine of creation being the foundation of the Conservative philosophy of art entails that true art be inherently useless. It must be something valued for its own sake, not its utility.

Tolkien’s Legendarium is a perfect example of this aesthetic. In particular, The Lord of the Rings is delightful just because it is delightful. The prose itself is marvelous, simultaneously unpretentious yet beckoning the reader forward with its sheer uncomplicated gravitas. Tolkien’s perfectly chosen words both serve the wondrous narrative and are consumed greedily for their own sake.

But it is true that Tolkien was attempting to create a distinctly English myth. Therefore his works of fiction were done in service to English culture. And a healthy English culture serves to create healthy Englishmen. So he was striving after some utility.

But the truer truth is that Tolkien, being the original Lord of the Nerds, created the worlds of Arda in order to have a medium to formulate and play with his own invented languages. In other words, the Elves were created for Elvish, or more specifically the Noldor were created for Quenya. The inherent uselessness of this endeavor is what makes his writings so culturally useful as a distinctly English myth. The idiosyncrasies of Tolkien as a person, particularly his philological genius, are what give The Lord of the Rings its depth and enduring cultural capital.

This does not refute the claim that true art is useless because it merely shows that the concept of useless and useful are not opposed to each other. But something that is only useful can never be art.

Hollywood makes this mistake all the time with their Oscar-bait films. For decades now, half the films nominated for best picture, and most of the films that win, are simply not among the best of their respective years. Some infamous examples serve to highlight this point. “Jaws” lost best picture to “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Star Wars” lost to “Annie Hall”, “E.T.” to “Gandhi”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to “Chariots of Fire”, “Field of Dreams” to “Driving Miss Daisy”, and most notoriously if “The Dark Knight” had been nominated it would have lost to “Slumdog Millionaire”.

The irony is obvious: when great art is the goal the product is more often than not completely forgettable. This is a crime against art itself and it will be an enduring legacy of decadent mediocrity for Hollywood until they purify their aesthetic worldview. Because the problem with most of the “artistic” films that become darlings of the Academy is that they trade narrative prowess for morality du jour. “Moonlight” won best picture in 2016 and no one will ever watch it again. But at least four of that year’s losing nominees feel like they could become what marketing guru Ryan Holiday calls perennial sellers.

For Hollywood real Art, art that “matters,” is morally useful. For them the only virtues that matter are the ones they can easily signal. A good story with excellent performances is simply not good enough. Its gotta have intersections to be worthwhile.

Sadly this is the reason that Contemporary Christian Music, Evangelical production companies like Sherwood Pictures, Thomas Kinkade, and actors like Kirk Cameron are so embarrassing to Christians and Conservatives that care about culture. These things attempt to emulate and compete with popular culture, just without the swears and ugliness. And because they choose to serve their simplistic vision of morality they continually fail to create anything of enduring quality.

Thankfully, Gosnell and Unplanned escape this cultural ghettoization because they know what they are. These are message films with no anxiety about competing with Hollywood for eyeballs. They probably should have been documentaries because they are both based on true stories. But the trouble with documentaries is that no one watches them. If you want to get a message out to a lot of people the packaging is important. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” And the medicine these films convey is deeply unpalatable. Abortion is probably the single most unpleasant subject of our times. And not just because of the political firestorm it generates.

Abortion is far more ethically complicated than most are willing to admit. It represents the intersection of every contradiction western society has been built on. In many ways it is the philosophical climax of Classical Liberalism’s failure, so eloquently outlined by Patrick Deneen. Calling abortion murder doesn’t encapsulate its gravity. The idea that humans could or should have the ability to completely control realities as complicated as sex and pregnancy is an inexhaustible hubris.

This is what makes Unplanned a truly interesting narrative in its own right. It is a deeply Conservative (read Burkean) film in a way that Gosnell could never be. Because the story of the sociopathic Kermit Gosnell isn’t ultimately about abortion. It’s about an abortionist gone mad. It’s about the failure of mainstream media to care about truth over ideology. It’s about the ineptitude of government to protect the individual. In other words, it’s a right vs. left culture war story through and through.

Gosnell” makes the blood run hot, partially because it’s clearly the better film as a film. Earl Billings is a legitimately great actor. His performance as Gosnell is truly chilling. Whereas the villain of Unplanned was played cartoonishly by Robia Scott, a veteran of low-grade television.

But what really makes Unplanned Conservative isn’t its lack of incendiary subject matter (because there certainly is some) but rather that it lays bare the entire enduring reality of abortion in America with genuine empathy. And it does this with uncompromising moral clarity about the unborn.

It is only able to do this because it adheres faithfully to Abby Johnson’s life story. Her story is not merely that of a Planned Parenthood turncoat, it is the story of a woman who had more than one abortion. It is a story of the gradual moral transformation of a young Texan who truly thought she was helping women and tragically learned that she was not.

This narrative is not compelling because it was told with the Hitchcockian brilliance of a Christopher Nolan. That was never the point. Abbie’s story is compelling because it’s true, and more than that it’s good. The tapestry God has woven with her painful life overcomes the film’s cinematic shortcomings and gives the viewer a deep look into how the Conservative vision of Social Justice is supposed to work. The Radical vision requires unbridled emotion and violence. The Radical demands justice today and always winds up enduring tyranny tomorrow. But the Conservative knows that the world belongs to what Russell Kirk called an enduring moral order.

”That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent.”

This is almost explicitly stated by Abbie’s husband during a conversation about viability. Viability was always Abbie’s cut off. Anything after viability was a baby and interfering at that point was wrong. But Doug challenges this with simple logic and science because medical knowledge keeps pushing viability back. So should our ethics be based in ever-changing science or eternal principles?

It was for this reason that Unplanned was made. It is a testimony to the wisdom of patience and love in the face of horrendous evil. Human flourishing is only possible when we go with the grain of the universe. Shaming, blaming, and shouting at people to not get abortions does no good. Murdering abortion doctors does not save any babies. Persuasion through reason driven by the peace that surpasses understanding is what ultimately changed Abbie. The virtuous humble activists with the Coalition of Life loved her away from Planned Parenthood. This is much more explicit in Abbie’s book of the same name.

At one point in the film, Abbie actually outlines that the success rate for convincing women to get abortions decreases when people are praying at the fences that surround Planned Parenthood clinics. Apparently, PP collects actual data that shows prayer does something to the women inside the clinic. And this should not surprise us! Jesus promised his disciples that the fence of hell (paraphrase) could not triumph against his followers.

But people can only pray at the fences as long as love reigns and not passion. The Westboro Baptist types within the pro-life brigade are literally doing no good. They give PP excuses to have the civil activists removed. Psychologist Jeffrey Schwartz once wrote:

”here’s a piece of practical advice: don’t be reckless about openly showing your disapproval…It’s an easy time to make needless enemies. Discretion may not be the better part of valor, but it is a part of it.”

Unplanned” may not be a great film in its own right. But Abbie’s life is a work of art, beautifully forged by divine providence. And this is the goal of winning the abortion battle, because it starts in our hearts and minds. The Conservative must be willing to submit his mind to the truth that everyone, on both sides of the Planned Parenthood fence, is fearfully and wonderfully made. That everyone was knit together in their mother’s womb by God. Peace within the womb starts with peace inside ourselves. Without love, we have nothing to offer anyone.

God could have chosen not to create and we would have been spared the pain of existence. This is what makes human life and the beautiful tragic story God is telling in humanity the greatest work of art. None of this needed to happen. It was not necessary. Yet God chose to do it for the simple joy of creation, even knowing what it would cost him.

For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

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  1. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I don’t think it’s a dilemma; you explain why quite well. You don’t expect everything from every film. I thought “Gravity” was interesting, visually impressive and imaginative. So was “Fantasia”. Are either or both great art? After a lifetime of looking, they’re pretty good art. 

    You do a good job describing the craft level of “Gosnell” and “Unplanned” before getting to the heart of your post, the moral questions. Yep, just because you believe the subject matter is important doesn’t make it art. But there’s no reason for a contradiction between them.

    Classic era Hollywood’s jammed production schedule gave rising filmmakers every opportunity to learn. The left will generously sponsor their best people, staking them to a second and third picture. Conservative filmmakers, and you know I compress a lot of simplification there, generally don’t get the extra chances to develop more deeply as writers and directors.  

    • #1
  2. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    A.C. Gleason: “Unplanned” may not be a great film in its own right. But Abbie’s life is a work of art, beautifully forged by divine providence. And this is the goal to winning the abortion battle, because it starts in our hearts and minds. The Conservative must be willing to submit his mind to the truth that everyone, on both sides of the Planned Parenthood fence, are fearfully and wonderfully made. That everyone was knit together in their mother’s womb by God. Peace within the womb starts with peace inside ourselves. Without love we have nothing to offer anyone.

    Well put. I just saw the movie yesterday and it’s pretty heavy stuff (I may write up my own thoughts soon). Where I think it works is that it takes what many view as a political issue and presents it as a human issue.

    • #2
  3. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Thanks to The Politicization of Everything™, we’re in a period where art is chiefly being judged for its political content, or certainly it’s “intersectional wokeness” content. The left has been doing this for quite some time. Certain elements of the right have long been doing this, too — the old evangelical films you mention are great examples, but there have certainly been a lot of recent ones as well.

    Where to turn if you just want a good, entertaining film without blatant messaging? Which isn’t to say that art shouldn’t have a message, but I’d prefer art was judged on its artistic merits rather than on its political content, and it’s annoying when the promotion of an AGENDA (in all caps) is the most obvious part of a work.

    Which might be why I see very few current movies anymore, and tend to watch older television shows over taking a chance with newer ones.

    • #3
  4. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages: 

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

     

    • #4
  5. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    The most interesting films we used to show on subjects like religion and abortion were from eastern Europe. Since my background is Catholic, I was particularly impressed with Polish films. They’re as non-propaganda–and non-woke–as you can imagine. The Czechs, Hungarians and Romanians are no slouches either. 

    • #5
  6. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages:

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

     

    That whole piece is really good, particularly the bits “Christian movies take place in the imagined reality of Christian sentimentalism.” andChristian movies emphasize narrative tidiness over nuance.”

    Might be why one of my favorite Christian novelists is Flannery O’Connor, a southern Catholic whose novels and short stories are neither tidy nor sentimental. But rather full of flawed characters, ugly situations, and rough grace.

    I also really appreciated the short-lived, now-forgotten (not even available on DVD) 1997 television show Nothing Sacred, centered on a young, liberal priest in an inner-city church. At the time we had churchy tv like “Touched by an Angel,” or “Highway to Heaven” where angels always zoomed in to make everything right. But the characters in Nothing Sacred struggled, sinned, doubted, muddled their way forward . . . it was quite a bit more real. No great big last-minute miracles to set everything right.

    (It was certainly on the liberal end of the political spectrum which may have been why some Christian critics tried to kill it. But it was a good show!)

    • #6
  7. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    also really appreciated the short-lived, now-forgotten (not even available on DVD) 1997 television show Nothing Sacred, centered on a young, liberal priest in an inner-city church. At the time we had churchy tv like “Touched by an Angel,” or “Highway to Heaven” where angels always zoomed in to make everything right. But the characters in Nothing Sacred struggled, sinned, doubted, muddled their way forward . . . it was quite a bit more real. No great big last-minute miracles to set everything right.

    I loved the Wilson article, but struggle with “real” story-telling.  I don’t usually like it.  Flannery O’Connor taught me about myself, but it’s as ugly as a distorted painting.  I want to see beautiful stories. Imperfect characters, yes. Ugliness and hopelessness, no. 

    • #7
  8. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    also really appreciated the short-lived, now-forgotten (not even available on DVD) 1997 television show Nothing Sacred, centered on a young, liberal priest in an inner-city church. At the time we had churchy tv like “Touched by an Angel,” or “Highway to Heaven” where angels always zoomed in to make everything right. But the characters in Nothing Sacred struggled, sinned, doubted, muddled their way forward . . . it was quite a bit more real. No great big last-minute miracles to set everything right.

    I loved the Wilson article, but struggle with “real” story-telling. I don’t usually like it. Flannery O’Connor taught me about myself, but it’s as ugly as a distorted painting. I want to see beautiful stories. Imperfect characters, yes. Ugliness and hopelessness, no.

    It all depends, and certainly O’Connor is not for all tastes. I like how she frequently cuts right through her characters’ self-perceptions and pride, often in violent ways — because sometimes that’s what it takes to wake people up. “God’s megaphone” as Lewis once said.

    I also think there’s value in making meaning less blatant. Requiring people to really think about what they’re reading or seeing, such that when meaning is found, it becomes more treasured for having been discovered and dug out rather than just handed out freely.

    • #8
  9. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Also, maybe Gary, with all his connections, can get someone to finally put Nothing Sacred on DVD, or at least get me a nice, sharp copy of it, instead of the crappy version I digitized from old VHS recordings of the show when it aired on ABC.

    Get to it, Gary! ; )

    • #9
  10. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I also think there’s value in making meaning less blatant. Requiring people to really think about what they’re reading or seeing, such that when meaning is found, it becomes more treasured for having been discovered and dug out rather than just handed out freely.

    Sometimes, though, writers and artists who claim to be all about the art exude a certain snobbery and pretentiousness. They hold up their own work as examples of the real thing, as opposed to those cheap, sentimental, message-driven productions.  Which may or may not be true, but that attitude turns me off.  

    • #10
  11. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I also think there’s value in making meaning less blatant. Requiring people to really think about what they’re reading or seeing, such that when meaning is found, it becomes more treasured for having been discovered and dug out rather than just handed out freely.

    Sometimes, though, writers and artists who claim to be all about the art exude a certain snobbery and pretentiousness. They hold up their own work as examples of the real thing, as opposed to those cheap, sentimental, message-driven productions. Which may or may not be true, but that attitude turns me off.

    Nobody’s coming to mind. But lately, all I’ve been reading are old comic strips. ; )

    • #11
  12. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I also think there’s value in making meaning less blatant. Requiring people to really think about what they’re reading or seeing, such that when meaning is found, it becomes more treasured for having been discovered and dug out rather than just handed out freely.

    Sometimes, though, writers and artists who claim to be all about the art exude a certain snobbery and pretentiousness. They hold up their own work as examples of the real thing, as opposed to those cheap, sentimental, message-driven productions. Which may or may not be true, but that attitude turns me off.

    Nobody’s coming to mind. But lately, all I’ve been reading are old comic strips. ; )

    Well, not to smear anyone without evidence, but it seems to me that Madeleine L’Engle gave her own work high marks for artfulness. Yet I thought her sci-fi for kids overrated and a bit confusing, even. My favorite book by her was a realistic fiction novel, Meet the Austins.  It was kind of cool that her book characters would cross series and genres to encounter one another, though. 

    • #12
  13. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):
    I also think there’s value in making meaning less blatant. Requiring people to really think about what they’re reading or seeing, such that when meaning is found, it becomes more treasured for having been discovered and dug out rather than just handed out freely.

    I do think you’re right about this, as long as this effort is not contrived. The Good Earth might be a good example.  

    • #13
  14. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    Also, maybe Gary, with all his connections, can get someone to finally put Nothing Sacred on DVD, or at least get me a nice, sharp copy of it, instead of the crappy version I digitized from old VHS recordings of the show when it aired on ABC.

    Get to it, Gary! ; )

    ABC? Owned by Disney, the most gay-friendly company in Hollywood? They don’t frequently respond to the wishes of aged conservative cultural officials like me.  But wait, the show is actually owned by 20th Century Fox, Rupert’s company! That’ll be easy—

    –except oops, they were just bought by Disney! Damn, this is confusing. 

    But I notice they have a couple of episodes free on YouTube. 

    • #14
  15. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    Well, not to smear anyone without evidence, but it seems to me that Madeleine L’Engle gave her own work high marks for artfulness. Yet I thought her sci-fi for kids overrated and a bit confusing, even.

    Heh. I never really cared for her. She’s controversial for good reason. She seemed like the sort that would have fit in well in that party at Lenny’s.

    • #15
  16. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    ABC? Owned by Disney, the most gay-friendly company in Hollywood? They don’t frequently respond to the wishes of aged conservative cultural officials like me. But wait, the show is actually owned by 20th Century Fox, Rupert’s company! That’ll be easy—

    –except oops, they were just bought by Disney! Damn, this is confusing. 

    Yes, I think that confusion is part of what’s made it difficult to get the show on DVD. That and probably nobody cares.

    • #16
  17. Virtuous Heathen Inactive
    Virtuous Heathen
    @heathen

    A.C. Gleason: The question of whether or not film, and photography generally, is an art is still seriously debated in certain circles.

    Film is most certainly an art. As is photography. Instead, serious debate falls more along the lines on whether it is better defined as simply containing/incorporating art or a product/work of art. 

    This is an important distinction that you miss and your case proceeds to muddy the waters between defining and critiquing. 

    A.C. Gleason: This does not refute the claim that true art is useless because it merely shows that the concept of useless and useful are not opposed to each other. But something that is only useful can never be art.

    You’ve done quite a bit of exposition on creation to reach a conclusion here that is patently wrong. Most obviously because useful and useless are, by their very definitions, opposed to each other. 

    And, you’ve muddied more water. This time between Theology and Philosophy. Then again between contradictory philosophies. You define creation as “useless to God.” A conclusion you reach by judging the consequences: harmful and painful. A Consequentialist doctrine, not a Christian one. And from that you draw a conclusion that true art exists for its own sake rather than utility. Better summarized as: Ars Gratia Artis. 

    Thought a high-minded latin proverb, it’s actual origins are in French Romanticism–a rejection of consequentialism and utility. 

    A conservative philosophy would be wise to avoid both Consequentialism and Romanticism–French or otherwise. 

    And yet ground can be found in muddy water–you’re not entirely off base. Aristotle defined Art as the external formation of a true idea. The majority of Aristotle’s writing on art is lost to time. Therefore it is uncertain (and widely debated) how flexible he would be with “true idea.” Nonetheless, all western art since, and the understanding of it, derives from this principle. 

    In this way, Art has purpose in the elucidation of truth–or at least of sincere belief. Ars Gratia Artis goes a bit too far, at least in its original understanding, contradicting itself. If one creates art which is the true realization of art independent of purpose, how can be said to be lacking purpose in the realization of an idea?

    A.C. Gleason: They probably should have been documentaries because they are both based on true stories. 

    These are not simply stories. Nor simply messages. They are art. Decisions were made writing, casting, framing, and editing. That they are not of Hitchcockian craft is not to say that they are not Art. The decision in Gosnell to focus on the defense, at the exclusion of other testimony, is brilliant. A defining detail to form the idea. A masterstroke.

    Artists may paint the same landscape–but never the same picture. A documentary can have the same subject. A transcript can say the same words. But they don’t realize the same true idea. They don’t paint the same picture.

    • #17
  18. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason
    @aarong3eason

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    I don’t think it’s a dilemma; you explain why quite well. You don’t expect everything from every film. I thought “Gravity” was interesting, visually impressive and imaginative. So was “Fantasia”. Are either or both great art? After a lifetime of looking, they’re pretty good art.

    You do a good job describing the craft level of “Gosnell” and “Unplanned” before getting to the heart of your post, the moral questions. Yep, just because you believe the subject matter is important doesn’t make it art. But there’s no reason for a contradiction between them.

    Classic era Hollywood’s jammed production schedule gave rising filmmakers every opportunity to learn. The left will generously sponsor their best people, staking them to a second and third picture. Conservative filmmakers, and you know I compress a lot of simplification there, generally don’t get the extra chances to develop more deeply as writers and directors.

    Thank you, and very thoughtful comments.

    • #18
  19. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason
    @aarong3eason

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages:

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

     

    Yeah I agree. Brian Godawa’s fiction is very interesting but limited in its appeal. The true heir to Tolkien and Lewis is probably Orson Scott Card or even Jim Butcher. Check them out if you’ve never heard of them. 

    • #19
  20. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason
    @aarong3eason

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):
    Well, not to smear anyone without evidence, but it seems to me that Madeleine L’Engle gave her own work high marks for artfulness. Yet I thought her sci-fi for kids overrated and a bit confusing, even.

    Heh. I never really cared for her. She’s controversial for good reason. She seemed like the sort that would have fit in well in that party at Lenny’s.

    I LOVE A Wrinkle in Time. 

    • #20
  21. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason
    @aarong3eason

    Virtuous Heathen (View Comment):

    A.C. Gleason: The question of whether or not film, and photography generally, is an art is still seriously debated in certain circles.

    Film is most certainly an art. As is photography. Instead, serious debate falls more along the lines on whether it is better defined as simply containing/incorporating art or a product/work of art.

    This is an important distinction that you miss and your case proceeds to muddy the waters between defining and critiquing.

    A.C. Gleason: This does not refute the claim that true art is useless because it merely shows that the concept of useless and useful are not opposed to each other. But something that is only useful can never be art.

    You’ve done quite a bit of exposition on creation to reach a conclusion here that is patently wrong. Most obviously because useful and useless are, by their very definitions, opposed to each other.

    And, you’ve muddied more water. This time between Theology and Philosophy. Then again between contradictory philosophies. You define creation as “useless to God.” A conclusion you reach by judging the consequences: harmful and painful. A Consequentialist doctrine, not a Christian one. And from that you draw a conclusion that true art exists for its own sake rather than utility. Better summarized as: Ars Gratia Artis.

    Thought a high-minded latin proverb, it’s actual origins are in French Romanticism–a rejection of consequentialism and utility.

    A conservative philosophy would be wise to avoid both Consequentialism and Romanticism–French or otherwise.

    And yet ground can be found in muddy water–you’re not entirely off base. Aristotle defined Art as the external formation of a true idea. The majority of Aristotle’s writing on art is lost to time. Therefore it is uncertain (and widely debated) how flexible he would be with “true idea.” Nonetheless, all western art since, and the understanding of it, derives from this principle.

    In this way, Art has purpose in the elucidation of truth–or at least of sincere belief. Ars Gratia Artis goes a bit too far, at least in its original understanding, contradicting itself. If one creates art which is the true realization of art independent of purpose, how can be said to be lacking purpose in the realization of an idea?

    A.C. Gleason: They probably should have been documentaries because they are both based on true stories.

    These are not simply stories. Nor simply messages. They are art. Decisions were made writing, casting, framing, and editing. That they are not of Hitchcockian craft is not to say that they are not Art. The decision in Gosnell to focus on the defense, at the exclusion of other testimony, is brilliant. A defining detail to form the idea. A masterstroke.

    Thanks for reading. Clearly we disagree about a great deal. 

    • #21
  22. DrewInWisconsin Member
    DrewInWisconsin
    @DrewInWisconsin

    A.C. Gleason (View Comment):

    I LOVE A Wrinkle in Time.

    I thought it was weird when I was a kid. I’ve read it a few times since then, even to my own kids. They think it’s weird, too. But I wrote some curriculum for it, so I guess I liked digging some meaning out of it.

    • #22
  23. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason
    @aarong3eason

    DrewInWisconsin (View Comment):

    A.C. Gleason (View Comment):

    I LOVE A Wrinkle in Time.

    I thought it was weird when I was a kid. I’ve read it a few times since then, even to my own kids. They think it’s weird, too. But I wrote some curriculum for it, so I guess I liked digging some meaning out of it.

    It is super weird. That’s one of many reasons I love it. 

    • #23
  24. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages:

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

     

    That’s interesting.

    I think Thomas Kinkaid gets a bad rap. His use of light in his work should gain him more credibility, but I think it’s more snobs that have relegated him to kitsch than anything lacking in vision.

    Perhaps execution, but not vision.

    Christian stuff has a horrible time with “joyful noise” being good enough. So as long as it means well, the execution doesn’t merit much thought. It’s a hideous thing, as there are artists in the Christian world who do put care and passion into their craft, but they are usually pushed to the side. And Christian’s have lost an ethic of presenting their best – a fine offering.

    I also think art criticism is incredibly tainted like wine critics. It’s mostly hot air and not much of value. I don’t expect critics to take any Christian stuff seriously.

    As to Mr. Gleason’s argument that art is useless, I disagree. Great art inspires us to see or feel or know beauty or truth. Mendelssohn or Bach, Tolkein or Lewis, DaVinci or Angelo… they inspire us to dig deeper, feel more strongly, and reach higher. There’s still suff in the Christian world that accomplishes this outside of old hymns and the classics.

     

    • #24
  25. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    Stina (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages:

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

     

    That’s interesting.

    I think Thomas Kinkaid gets a bad rap. His use of light in his work should gain him more credibility, but I think it’s more snobs that have relegated him to kitsch than anything lacking in vision.

    Perhaps execution, but not vision.

    Christian stuff has a horrible time with “joyful noise” being good enough. So as long as it means well, the execution doesn’t merit much thought. It’s a hideous thing, as there are artists in the Christian world who do put care and passion into their craft, but they are usually pushed to the side. And Christian’s have lost an ethic of presenting their best – a fine offering.

    I also think art criticism is incredibly tainted like wine critics. It’s mostly hot air and not much of value. I don’t expect critics to take any Christian stuff seriously.

    As to Mr. Gleason’s argument that art is useless, I disagree. Great art inspires us to see or feel or know beauty or truth. Mendelssohn or Bach, Tolkein or Lewis, DaVinci or Angelo… they inspire us to dig deeper, feel more strongly, and reach higher. There’s still suff in the Christian world that accomplishes this outside of old hymns and the classics.

    Not to bang on the same drum all the time, but the very top intellectual critics in Warsaw, Budapest, and Bucharest do take Christian stuff seriously. Some Russians too, although it’s risky to point it out. 

     

    • #25
  26. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason
    @aarong3eason

    Stina (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages:

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

     

    That’s interesting.

    I think Thomas Kinkaid gets a bad rap. His use of light in his work should gain him more credibility, but I think it’s more snobs that have relegated him to kitsch than anything lacking in vision.

    Perhaps execution, but not vision.

    Christian stuff has a horrible time with “joyful noise” being good enough. So as long as it means well, the execution doesn’t merit much thought. It’s a hideous thing, as there are artists in the Christian world who do put care and passion into their craft, but they are usually pushed to the side. And Christian’s have lost an ethic of presenting their best – a fine offering.

    I also think art criticism is incredibly tainted like wine critics. It’s mostly hot air and not much of value. I don’t expect critics to take any Christian stuff seriously.

    As to Mr. Gleason’s argument that art is useless, I disagree. Great art inspires us to see or feel or know beauty or truth. Mendelssohn or Bach, Tolkein or Lewis, DaVinci or Angelo… they inspire us to dig deeper, feel more strongly, and reach higher. There’s still suff in the Christian world that accomplishes this outside of old hymns and the classics.

    A) Kincaid was horrible philosophically. He hated modern art yet his own style was impressionistic. He also factorized the process. Kincaid was very talented but I would argue a disaster philosophically. He also trivializes heaven. His entire subject matter is supposed to be eschatological but really it’s nostolgic. That’s a complicated discussion but I think Kincaid loses it.

    B) Useful and useless aren’t opposed. Art does do those things but so can almost anything and we don’t value art for its uses. We value it for the same reason God values his creation. It just is good. I wrote this piece on how comedy is didactic but that’s not why we love comedy, we love comedy because it makes us laugh and we love to laugh because we love to laugh. It’s that simple. We were made for laughter. Of course comedy teaches us things but if we value it because it teaches things we’re lost aesthetically.

    https://www.hollywoodintoto.com/woke-comedy-isnt-funny/

     

    • #26
  27. A.C. Gleason Coolidge
    A.C. Gleason
    @aarong3eason

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages:

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

     

    That’s interesting.

    I think Thomas Kinkaid gets a bad rap. His use of light in his work should gain him more credibility, but I think it’s more snobs that have relegated him to kitsch than anything lacking in vision.

    Perhaps execution, but not vision.

    Christian stuff has a horrible time with “joyful noise” being good enough. So as long as it means well, the execution doesn’t merit much thought. It’s a hideous thing, as there are artists in the Christian world who do put care and passion into their craft, but they are usually pushed to the side. And Christian’s have lost an ethic of presenting their best – a fine offering.

    I also think art criticism is incredibly tainted like wine critics. It’s mostly hot air and not much of value. I don’t expect critics to take any Christian stuff seriously.

    As to Mr. Gleason’s argument that art is useless, I disagree. Great art inspires us to see or feel or know beauty or truth. Mendelssohn or Bach, Tolkein or Lewis, DaVinci or Angelo… they inspire us to dig deeper, feel more strongly, and reach higher. There’s still suff in the Christian world that accomplishes this outside of old hymns and the classics.

    Not to bang on the same drum all the time, but the very top intellectual critics in Warsaw, Budapest, and Bucharest do take Christian stuff seriously. Some Russians too, although it’s risky to point it out.

     

    I’m sure they do. Disney’s early work was taken very seriously as Art in Europe before the Auteur theory was invented because animation is clearly Art in a totally different way from photographic cinema. But just because someone takes something seriously doesn’t make it one thing or another. It’s possible to seriously analyze anything. 

    • #27
  28. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    The most interesting films we used to show on subjects like religion and abortion were from eastern Europe. Since my background is Catholic, I was particularly impressed with Polish films. They’re as non-propaganda–and non-woke–as you can imagine. The Czechs, Hungarians and Romanians are no slouches either.

    I’d be interested to know some of the Polish films you have in mind.

    The topic of abortion in film brought to mind two Russian films by Pavel Chukhray, Thief (1997) and A Driver for Vera (2004). Abortion isn’t depicted very nicely in either of them. In Thief I suppose leftists could say, “See, that’s what happens when abortion isn’t legal,” though I doubt it would be their choice of how to preach that message. In A Driver for Vera some reflexive anti-abortion attitudes are portrayed in a good enough way, and not preached.

    The two films are definitely art, though A Driver for Vera disappoints at the end. When I was first watching it on YouTube some years ago it came to a point where the tension built up so I couldn’t watch it any more. I knew about the pressures the Soviet KGB could bring to bear on people to betray friends and family, and couldn’t make myself watch it happen. Finally, after several weeks I convinced myself that it was just a movie and that I should finish watching it. I then saw that Chukhray couldn’t bear to go there, either, and that he wimped out at the end. Still, it’s a very good film.

    These two films are available with English subtitles and got quite a bit of international attention. I see that Chukhray has made other films that I hadn’t known about (probably there are no English subtitles). I wonder if he worked the topic of abortion into any of them. 

     

    • #28
  29. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    sawatdeeka (View Comment):

    I appreciated this post by Jared Wilson. I have not seen Unplanned, and am not calling it “terrible;” I just think Wilson makes some great points about Christian film-making in general. Here is one of his most helpful passages:

    We always wondered why there weren’t any more C.S. Lewises or G.K. Chestertons around. The truth is, there were — they just weren’t writing for the Christian market, because that market does not want art that communciates truth but art that is being used by a message. And there’s a difference. It is the difference between art and propaganda.

    This part in Jared Wilson’s piece intrigued me:

    Or let’s consider this: The gospel always sounds offensive to the world. Maybe Christian movies that articulate faith content clearly are destined to be laughed out of the theater, regardless of the excellence of their cinematic context, if only because the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.

    Probably… but I sure do wish there would be more big-name actors who wanted to be part of a faith-based movie project. That in and of itself would say a lot, in my opinion.

    That was a great post, A.C.

    • #29
  30. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge
    Chris Hutchinson
    @chrishutch13

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    The most interesting films we used to show on subjects like religion and abortion were from eastern Europe. Since my background is Catholic, I was particularly impressed with Polish films. They’re as non-propaganda–and non-woke–as you can imagine. The Czechs, Hungarians and Romanians are no slouches either.

    Gary, can you recall any of those Polish movies’ names? Polish movies are often a bit too hard for my taste but my wife would be happy to hear you like them and I’d be up for watching some with her.  

    • #30
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